The Orb: History Of The Future – The Island Years – album reviewThe Orb: History Of The Future – The Island Years (Island Records / Universal Music)

CD / DL / LP

October 7th 2013

Louder Than War’s been checking out the new box set celebrating 25 years of The Orb. A comprehensive collection, but is there enough new here to warrant the hefty price tag for the dedicated fan, or will they have it all already?

The Orb, to me at least, have always seemed ahead of their time, while simultaneously also being cast so perfectly into the music landscape of the late 80s and early 90s that they could not exist any time else.

Their desolate ambient electro-dub sound speaks of the emergence of (almost) accessible technology synonymous with the time, as well as a concept that pre-dated the dubstep explosion of the 2000s and eschewed the E induced rave scene as an intelligent alternative for the thinking raver. While on the face of it the pounding beats and psychedelic aspects of their music appealed to a broad and superficially straightforward market, the intelligence and intricacy of their sound gained attention from modernist composers and music industry executives alike.

As time has gone on, The Orb (at least Alex Patterson, the only person to have continued under The Orb name since 1988) have continued to be in demand as composers, producers and remixers alike. While the quality of their material has dropped off (see 2001’s Cydonia for example), and their distinctive sound has become so distinctive as to seem more like a signature of a computer program automatically generating The Orb’s sound, and a gradual fade into irrelevance as other musicians have picked up the concept and gone so much further – The Orb still have the ability to surprise, innovate and charm.

Not that you would know from Universal Music’s shameless cash in attempt just in time for the Christmas market, where there will be no shortage of people in their late 40s with a habit of reminiscing about their time squeezing as many of their friends as possible into a Ford Escort before heading off to a field in Essex for the weekend, opening this set on Christmas morning.

This isn’t the first “greatest hits” record that’s come from The Orb, the first being 1998’s U.F.Off compilation which condensed the past decade’s work into just over an hour. However, there’s been fifteen productive years since then, so you would expect to have a fresh set of tracks here, and perhaps a version or two of the old favourites that you’ve already picked up on tape, then CD, then MiniDisc, then downloaded. Unfortunately, this is not the case, in fact, the first five tracks of CD1 are exactly the same versions as featured on U.F.Off in the same order, and there are only three tracks on this disc that don’t feature on their previous best of compilation. Of course, from my perspective at least, it’s quite a reasonable ‘best of’, since that certainly is the best of their output, but it seems a little half arsed at best, and an outright rip-off at worse.

On to CD2 then, which, well, this is embarrassing, not only sounds much like the first CD, being as it consists of remixes of most of the tracks on it, but is also about 50% the same as the second disc from the aforementioned (and still easily available) best of released in 1998.

On to the DVD then, which hopefully fares a little better so as to somehow justify this set’s £40 price tag (that’s right, £40 – clearly Universal have more faith in the “E addled youth” of the early 90s to have gone on to have pretty well paying jobs than the tabloids did at the time)… To get the full effect of the experience of watching The Orb on DVD without shelling out the extortionate fee for this set, simply turn up at a party, stay sober, don’t talk to anyone, and watch everything through a small square in a piece of paper held in front of your face. Oh, and pop some cotton wool in your ears so you can’t hear the music too clearly either.

Of course, it’s very easy to pick apart what is clearly meant to be one of those box sets that’s bought only as a gift, as it would make quite a thoughtful one, based purely on the music – it’s clearly meant as more of a package, so I’m sure that it will come in a suitably Helvetica-y box alongside a booklet of borderline interesting anecdotes from the band’s history written by someone vaguely acquainted with the band at some point. Of course, I wouldn’t know, since Universal’s promotional budget only saw fit to send a few CDs in plastic wallets and a print out so poor in quality I didn’t realise it actually had anything written on it for some time, although the threats on the CD itself warning me that they would track me down if I dared to share it on the internet were perfectly legible, they should really speak to one of the DVD pirates down Brick Lane for some advice on packaging this stuff, by comparison they’re experts.

So if you’re thinking about getting this set for yourself, don’t bother, it’s definitely not worth it and you will have already heard (and probably own) everything contained within. If it’s a gift, you’re only mugging yourself by spending quite so much on it – if you’re willing to spend that much on someone’s Christmas present, you should know them well enough to be able to come up with a better idea.

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For more Orb related stuff on Louder Than War check out this interview with Alex Paterson that we ran last week.

The Orb can be found at their website. They’re also on Facebook & Twitter both here & here.

All words by Natalie Dzerins. More work by Natalie on Louder Than War can be found here. Natalie also has her own website Forty Shades Of Grey which you can find here & she tweets as @TheNatFantastic.

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